A daily study of the Network’s diverse faiths
Da Xue (大雪, 대설, đại tuyết, Greater Snow). Start of the twenty-first of the twenty-four traditional Chinese solar terms, the third of Winter when the Sun reaches the celestial longitude of 255°. It snows more heavily, with a significant temperature drop and cold weather, rivers freezing up and people pickling salty food whilst farmers cultivate seedlings. Heavy snow is said to promise a good year, as the snow covers the earth and keeps the temperature of the ground and crops from falling excessively, creating a good overwintering environment for winter crops. A farmers’ proverb is: “Three layers of snow on wheat this year, a sound sleep and bread next year.” When it thaws, the snow will increase soil moisture, help spring growth and have a fertilising effect. A traditional food at this time is the dim sum ( 點心) delicacy of red date cake that has a history of over two hundred years as the royal pastry of the 1644 to 1912 Qing dynasty. Da Xue ends when the Sun reaches the celestial longitude of 270° at the next solar term of Dong Zhi (冬至, Winter Solstice), from the 21 December shortest day and longest night of the year. Image: travelchinaguide.com.
Vigil of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (Inmaculada Concepción de María Madre de Dios). Tonight, Roman Catholics celebrate a vigil (vigilia, wakefulness, παννυχίς) with a period of purposeful sleeplessness on the eve of the major Feast Day of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, with psalms, prayers, hymns and silent meditation. Traditionally, the celebration of Christian liturgical feasts began on the evening before Holy Days, as the Early Church continued the Jewish practice of beginning the day at sunset rather than midnight. The Fathers of the Church saw in Mary the new Eve whose obedience untied the knot of disobedience bound by the first woman, the mother of all mankind. As Eve was created in purity and integrity, the new Eve was miraculously preserved from the contamination of original sin because she had to give humanity the Word, Who was incarnated for our ransom. Before descending in Body, Christ’s fullness was spread in a unique and unrepeatable way on Mary, predestined through eternity to be the Mother of God. The virginity of the pure earth from which Adam was drawn is compared to the virginity of the immaculate humanity of Mary from which the Second Adam was drawn. Through the centuries, the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, full of grace through God, was redeemed from the moment of her conception, the words of the Archangel Gabriel being realised. St Paul the Apostle taught that the Father made all fullness dwell in His Incarnate Son, overflowing from Christ’s head onto His Mystical Body that is the Church. The 8 December Immaculate Conception Feast was first solemnised on 6 December 1708, as one of the six Holy Days of Obligation under the Papal Bull Commissi Nobis Divinitus, and on 8 December 1854 the Dogma of the Catholic Faith, the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was proclaimed by the Church in the papal bull Ineffabilis Deus, revealing that God granted the Blessed Virgin Mary exemption from all stain of original sin, the very ancient belief. Four years later, the Virgin Mary appeared to St Bernadette in Lourdes to confirm the truth of the doctrine by presenting herself as the Immaculate Conception. In 1953, the Centenary of the proclamation of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception was commemorated by the encyclical letter Fulgens Corona. Each year since then, the Pope has visited the Column of the Immaculate Conception in the Piazza di Spagna to offer expiatory prayers commemorating the solemn event. The belief is in the sinless lifespan and sinless Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary nine months before the feast of the Nativity of Mary, celebrated on 8 September. Thus, in the Roman Catholic Church and some Protestant Christian denominations, 8 December is one of the most important Marian feasts in the liturgical calendar and, as a Holy Day of Obligation, believers are normally required to attend church and avoid servile work. The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Mass has the First Reading from Genesis 3, the Responsorial Psalm 98, the Second Reading from Ephesians 1 and the Alleluia and Gospel from Luke 1. In addition to the liturgical celebrations on 8 December, there are normally religious and military parades, processions, food, costumes, festive pageantry, grand fireworks and cultural dancing in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary on what is generally considered to be a Family Day, especially in many pious Catholic countries. By Pontifical decree, 8 December is the patronal feast day of Argentina, Brazil, Italy, Korea, Nicaragua, Paraguay, The Philippines, Spain, the USA and Uruguay. By royal decree, it is designated as the day honouring the patroness of Portugal. La Griteria in Nicaragua is a holiday dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, the patroness of the country. Image: catholicreview.org.
Prayer Hail Mary, Full of Grace, The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death. Amen. Ave María, gratia plena, ave dominus, Dominus tecum In mulieribus et benedictus.
Nativity of St Columba (Colum Cille) (521-97). Feast Day celebrating the birth in Gartan, Tyrconnell, Gaelic Ireland (present-day Donegal) of the noble Irish abbot and missionary evangelist credited with spreading Christianity in what is today Scotland, at the start of the 563 Hiberno-Scottish mission. After Bardic studies, Columba received monastic training from some of Ireland’s most prominent church figures and founded several monasteries in the country. Around 563, he left his native land and with twelve companions crossed to Dunaverty near Southend, Kintyre, Argyll before settling in Iona in present-day Scotland to found a new abbey as a base for spreading Celtic Christianity among the pagan Northern Pictish kingdoms. Iona, an island near Mull off the west coast of Scotland, was chosen for this monastic refuge, Columba having been influenced by his north-east of Ireland family contacts with the rest of the Gaelic kingdom of Dál Riata on the western seaboard of Scotland. As a pilgrim for Christ, he also founded the island monasteries of Campus Lunge on Tiree in the Inner Hebrides and the nearby lost Hinba on Colonsay. He founded churches in Inverness after converting Bruide the king of the Picts. Columba returned to Ireland on only a few occasions and died at Iona on 9 June 597, after checking that there were sufficient stores for the remainder of the year, blessing them and returning to the monastery to copy a Psalter that ended with the words Inquirentes autem Dominum non deficient omni bono (They that seek the Lord shall not lack every good). He collapsed and died in the church where he was attending the midnight office and that night a bright light like a comet appeared in the sky. His legacy remained of the greatest importance in the ecclesiastical history of Ireland and Britain for many centuries, as it did in the Medieval Frankish Carolingian empire and its brief Lotharingian successor. The prestige of Iona continued as the hub of a great confederation of monasteries extending from Ireland to remotest Pictland, whose wealth and influence led to Iona being attacked by the Norsemen in 795, 802, 806 and 825, the 806 attack with the massacre of sixty-eight monks in Martyrs’ Bay leading to many of the remaining monks relocating to the new Abbey of Kells in Ireland. The first monastery to be attacked and pillaged by the Norsemen had been Lindisfarne on the north-east coast of England in 793. Devotion to Colum Cille and the veneration of his relics continued for many centuries after his death and he was revered as a warrior saint, with his relics being invoked for victory in battle both in Scotland and Ireland. A cumdach Columba box-shrine was made by his comarba (successor), the Abbot of Kells, between 1062 and 1098, to be used as a palladium battle talisman by the O’Donnells, the dominant Irish clan of the kingdom of Tyrconnell. Three surviving early medieval Latin hymns may be attributed to Columba and he is remembered today as a Catholic saint and one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland. Venerated in Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Presbyterian Churches, Anglican Communion. Major shrine Iona. Folk-piety directed towards Colum Cille in Donegal and the neighbouring Derry continued into the Nineteenth Century and Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Catholic bishops promoted devotion to him. More recently, the shared Columban heritage has been seen as an ecumenical resource, symbolised by the interdenominational Iona Community founded on the island in 1938 by a Church of Scotland minister and initially focused on rebuilding Iona Abbey. It has also inspired revivals of Celtic Christianity, often presented as quasi-Pagan nature worship. Patron of Derry, floods, bookbinders, poets, Ireland and Scotland. Image: colnect.com.